State regulators reject appeal of Grain Belt Express approval

Source: By Tim Landis, State Journal-Register • Posted: Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A court fight now seems likely after Illinois regulators declined to reconsider approval of a high-voltage transmission line that would cross portions of nine central Illinois counties.

The Illinois Commerce Commission filed notice last week rejecting appeals from a group of landowners for another round of hearings on the proposed Grain Belt Express power line. Commissioners initially approved the Illinois section of the project on a 3-2 vote in November. The $2 billion project would carry power from a Kansas wind farm across Missouri and Illinois to Indiana.

Illinois, Kansas and Indiana regulators have approved Grain Belt Express, while the project was rejected in Missouri.

Central Illinois opponents, including the Pike and Scott County Farm Bureau, argued project developer Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston failed to meet state standards for expedited approval of the power line. They also contend Clean Line Energy Partners lacks financing to complete the power line, and that the project would hurt property values and damage the environment.

Blake Roderick, executive director of the Pike and Scott County Farm Bureau, said Wednesday the ICC rejection was not a surprise. He added that opponents likely would challenge the approval in court.

“They (the ICC) granted expedited approval to a non-utility that is granted only to utilities in Illinois,” Roderick said. “We hold that the law applies only to utilities, and Clean Line is clearly a transmission company, not a utility.”

Clean Line Energy Partners director of development Mark Lawlor released a statement late Tuesday welcoming the ICC decision as a boost to renewable energy and power-market competition.

“The commission’s vote today (Tuesday) strengthens our ability to move the Grain Belt Express clean line project forward,” Lawlor said. “We will now focus on the project in Missouri, the final state where it needs approval.”

The planned power-line route includes sections of Christian, Macoupin, Montgomery, Pike, Scott, Greene, Shelby, Cumberland and Clark counties.